Thursday, June 28, 2012

ISTE 2012 Impressions

As I wrote in my post last week, I was heading to ISTE 2012 in San Diego. I wrote about several things the conference had to offer that I wanted to explore, so I thought this would be a good time to provide some feedback since the conference is now over.

 First, I was so impressed with the technology, which of course one would expect at a technology conference. But, the fact that throughout the entire conference free wifi was available was really a bonus and something that other conferences really need to consider. It allows for participants to stay connected. All the tweets and blogs that occurred throughout the day provided additional support and exposure of the conference,which I think might outweigh cost.

 Second, I really felt the structure of the conference fostered collaboration and gave everyone time to see exhibits and learn without feeling torn. I know at the math conferences there are so many presentations scheduled at every time, with no breaks, so as a participant you have to choose either exhibits or presentations. At ISTE there were specific times when no sessions were offered, with the idea that participants could then go to exhibits or hang out and network or blog or meet folks in the lounges, or check out a playground. It was great not to have to decide one or the other. I was able to go to several terrific sessions, roam the exhibit hall, and manage a couple lounge visits.

 Third, it was very apparent that this conference is about networking, collaboration and using technology to connect and enhance education. This was evident in the lounges, where people were blogging and chatting, or in the Social Media Lounge tweeting away but connecting face to face with online colleagues. The live #edchat in the Newbie Lounge on Tuesday afternoon was a personal highlight for me, as I was able to meet personally with folks I tweet with regularly. The atmosphere of the whole conference was about support, connecting, sharing and supporting each other. It was a very positive vibe.

 Overall, I completely enjoyed myself at this conference. Of course, the gorgeous weather in San Diego didn't hurt! I hope that one day the math conferences will embrace some of the structures and focus of ISTE...think it goes a long way towards a great learning experience. See you next year!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ISTE 2012 - Conference Kudos

I am going to the ISTE 2012 Conference in San Diego this coming weekend/week. That in itself is pretty exciting.  It's my first time at ISTE, not for lack of wanting, more for lack of timing and cost.  I am very excited knowing I am going to be immersed in technology, meeting other ed-tech enthusiasts, and just learning more about what's out there that can help me personally and professionally.  Another reason I am excited is that I will experience a conference that has some very different options from the math conferences I usually attend.

I am not knocking math conferences. Rather, what I am pointing out are the many ways in which the ISTE conference differs in what it provides in the way of collaboration, networking and technology that is unfortunately, not often a part of math conferences.  This may be true of other content specific conferences, but since I am most familiar with math conferences, that is my point of reference. I am sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that edtech enthusiasts tend to be more connected because of  technology, so it's really great to see that the conference itself supports that in so many ways.

One thing that stands out in particular are ISTE's Networking Lounges.  These are places for like-minded attendees to meet and greet and connect with others. Places to hang out, recharge devices - what a great idea!  Instead of what I am use to, where you see folks wandering conference halls aimlessly looking for an outlet or a place to rest. These lounges are specifically themed so you can head to the lounge of most interest to you where you can connect with others, perhaps even those you have only met via Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook. I myself am thinking the Bloggers Cafe or the Newbie Lounge or the Social Butterfly Lounge all sound like fun places to stop in and see what's going on.  This type of free, available space where you can arrange to meet with others or just run in and meet the folks who are hanging out allows for some powerful networking.

Participating remotely I know has become a feature of many conferences, and even the math conferences have some events (usually just the main Keynotes and awards presentations) available virtually, but ISTE has some actual workshops as well as Keynote sessions available remotely.  This is a great option for folks unable to attend live. Using ISTE's Remote Program you could spend a virtual day at the conference - pretty awesome. kid doesn't love a playground, and apparently adults are the same! ISTE provides Focus Playgrounds, where you can attend a single or all-day event and play around with interactive technologies. One of my tweeps pointed this out to me the other day (@gridjumper), specifically the SIGVE Playground, so definitely going to play there. There are several others that look interesting to me, such as the STEM & Computer Science Playground, or the Mobile Learning Playground. I guess this is like recess!

There are some Social Events as well, where you can meet with folks you connect with virtually (the Tweetup Meetup) or Global Happy Hour to again, meet up with folks.  And, you can also see all the sponsor events in one location through the Sponsor Activities, which is terrific, especially if you are interested in those specific companies and their products. Makes life easy.

I am still discovering more as I explore the ISTE Conference site. There's the Blog Roll where you can follow others blogging about ISTE or the ISTE Communities, that allow you to follow conference news and updates and connect with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.  This is definitely a networking, collaboration conference! It was suggested to me from one of my tweeps (@erinKohl) to use the conference planner and focus myself, so I plan on doing that. Though I just found there is a mobile app for the conference guide as well, so might have to do that on the iPad!  And - WiFi is available throughout the conference hall and meeting rooms, though not in the exhibit halls. Gotta love a tech conference!  Feeling like a kid in a candy store.

Really looking forward to the whole experience and hopefully it will be the first of many ISTE conferences. Hoping to meet many of my virtual colleagues and friends (#edchat meetup and live #edchat in particular) while there.  If you are going, maybe I will run into you on the playground!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Flipped Classroom Revisited

I posted an article a while back about my thoughts on the flipped classroom: Math Anxiety and the Flipped Classroom.  In this post, I basically expressed my concern that many teachers are using the flipped model to continue the same traditional way of teaching - lecture and homework, and merely switching where these things happened. If this is how the model is being used, especially in math, it is not going to improve student learning because it's the same old thing. My hope was that those embracing this model were truly doing something different - really using the class time to connect with their students, provide collaborative learning experiences, engaging in real-world applications, projects and extending the learning to make connections - not just reviewing homework. In short, teaching DIFFERENT in the classroom - where the classroom becomes a student-centered learning experience, not just a regurgitation of what they saw/learned in the online 'lecture'.

That's my hope.  I am still on the flipped fence. But...since I am inundated with articles about the flipped classroom model, I have actually succumbed to reading them rather than ignoring them, and have been pleasantly surprised more often than expected. There are people out there offering great examples of how this flipped model, if done right, can change the learning experiences for students for the better. I thought I would share a few of those articles below because they have at least given me some hope that not everyone thinks an online lecture is the answer or the way to 'integrate technology' appropriately. They also provide some great ideas and strategies if you are considering this model.

Catlin Tucker wrote a great blog post entitled Flipped Classrooms: Beyond the Videos where she gives three suggestions on how to make this model work.  Her point is that everyone is focusing on the online lectures or videos, when in fact the idea behind this is that you can use so many different avenues to help students learn and you are not confined to lectures or worksheets.  The classroom, flipped or not, can be about using all possible resources to help students understand, be creative, apply what they are learning. It's really more about flipping the students than the classroom - engaging students in learning rather than having them be passive receivers of knowledge.

Brian Bennett, Jason Kern, April Gudenrath and Philip McIntosh wrote a series on the flipped classroom, but their last post in the series, The Flipped Class: What Does a Good One Look Like? outlines what a good flipped classroom should look like. What you will notice when you read the article is that the classroom culture is student-centered, involves active student engagement and collaboration, where students are learning in context using real-world applications of concepts. There's no 'sit and get' the information - it's an active, participatory learning environment.

 An article just posted by Kyle Stokes entitled "Why Good Teachers - Not Good Videos - Are the Key to the Flipped Classroom"` reiterates the point Catlin Tucker made, that it's not the videos but the quality of the teacher.  The video is not the magic of the flipped model, rather it's what happens in the classroom. Brian Bennett in his post entitled Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom talks about how the classroom and the way a teacher thinks and structures that time has to be completely rethought.  The role of the teacher is entirely different because you are learning along with your students in class time rather than doling out the information. A good flipped classroom is NOT easy - it requires thought, planning, engaging activities, real-world activities, questioning, listening, collaboration...

I have hope, or at least more hope than before.  I still worry a great deal about math classrooms, as I think there is more of a tendency to rely on the lectures (i.e. Khan Academy) as the magical fix to improving students math abilities. But - there are at least people talking and sharing ideas on how to use this model effectively. May that trend continue.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beliefs Determine Actions

I was trying to find some inspiration by viewing some previous Ignite talks. I came across this one by David Elliott entitled Unpacking Beliefs at this year's NCSM in Philadelpha, PA back in April. David talks about how our thoughts lead to beliefs, beliefs lead to actions, and actions ultimately lead to improvement.

In light of all the things in education we are suppose to focus on these days (Common Core, curriculum, strategies, testing, teacher evaluations, etc.), what really matters is what we believe. If we don't believe teachers can improve, then they won't. If we don't believe technology can enhance learning, then it won't. If we don't believe students can learn, then they won't. Not believing means we are never going to take the right actions that will lead to change and improvement. An interesting thought....might explain why so many things 'fail' in education. 

David ends by talking about belief in our students, the ultimate goal of education - believing in our students and their abilities to learn, achieve, and succeed. Perhaps those of us in education need to sit back and reflect on what we believe about our students and education in general - perhaps this will give us a clearer path on what we should be acting on and improving.

Watch David's video - it's only five minutes!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Implementation Dip - It's Not Just Test Scores, It's Any Change

I read this article yesterday by Andrew Ujifusa entitled New Tests Put States on Hot Seat as Scores Plunge. Basically, states that have implemented new standardized tests to address revised academic standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, have seen a drop in student scores, so panic has ensued.

What I want to know is: has no one ever heard about the implementation dip?

Whenever you try to implement something new, there is going to be a period of adjustment, scores will go down if we are talking tests, classroom behaviors will change and achievement will go down if new teaching strategies are being implemented - in short, any time you try something new, it is NOT going to go exactly as planned!  Mistakes will happen, things will be bad before they get better - it's part of the whole change process.  Which is why we need to be implementing changes slowly, early, and over time so that things that go wrong can be adjusted.

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What is the implementation dip?  Michael Fullen (2001), in his book Leading in a Culture of Change defines the implementation dip as the following:
"...a dip in performance and confidence as one encounters an innovation that requires new skills and new understandings" (p. 40).
This occurs whenever something new (meaning new to you, not necessarily brand new) is introduced, so in an educational setting this means new standards, new tests, new/different instructional strategies, new technologies, etc. Anything that is different and requires different skills and understandings is NEW to those who have to implement it. This will entail an implementation dip that if not planned for and supported, will mean ultimate failure.

I think this explains why many new/different approaches/tools/strategies that have been put in place or adopted by schools and districts don't work or are not sustained over time - no one expects, accepts, and works through the implementation dip. For example, when students take new tests and scores go down, the teachers are blamed, rather than understanding it is a normal process of a new test.  Or if new technology or curriculum is introduced and grades go down, again, it is blamed on the teachers or the technology itself, when in fact, it is a natural outcome of trying anything new. What often happens after this 'failure' is  these new strategies/tools/standards are then tossed out for the next great thing around the bend (or the teachers are tossed out, if we look at what's happening these days). This philosophy only perpetuates the inconsistencies and inequities in our educational system when what we should be doing is buckling down and really working through the implementation dip.

How do we break this cycle and really give new things an honest attempt?  Here are some suggestions.

1) First, make sure whatever the 'new' thing is - standards, curriculum resources, technology, instructional strategies - has really been researched and planned out to ensure it is a good fit for your school, the teachers, the students. Make sure you have the infrastructure to support the change (hardware, software, materials, personnel, etc.) and have planned for training and support. If that is NOT thought of ahead of time, then you are never going to make it through the implementation dip.  (See my post @testsoup blog Going Digital: It's All About Planning).

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2) Training and support - whoever is expected to use/implement anything new needs appropriate training to not only learn the skills, but to understand how this 'new' thing relates to what they do/teach and how it will help students.  Training should entail learning of skills, developing lesson plans, PRACTICE and working together.  Change requires collaboration, a team effort - so administration needs to be involved and supportive, teachers need to be involved and supported. This might mean coaching or modeling, co-teaching, collaborative planning and lesson study - working together to figure out what's needed, how it fits into the school goals and structures, and when things get sticky and tricky, knowing someone will be there to work through it and help find alternatives.

3) Time - training should NOT be a one shot deal in the summer or that first week back at school. It should be ongoing and collaborative.  Implementation should not be done all at once - take your time, do it slowly - start small and add on, which will allow for fixing of things that may not work well the first time. Time for practice, time for reevaluating and adjusting strategies. Time is crucial - don't be in a rush. If you want positive change and results, allow for the implementation dip and the time to work through the tough changes.

4) EXPECT and ACCEPT FAILURE.  And then do something to fix it. With time and support, failure is not an option because there will be the support to figure out what didn't work and the time to adjust and fix it and help it work. This means scores going down, or a noisy classroom, or a failed lesson - it happens, it's okay - now move on and figure out how to make it work next time.  Creating this culture of perseverance is key to any 'new' thing being successful.

There are more suggestions I am sure.  I would suggest reading Fullen's book - it's a great resource for planning for change. But I think the most important thing to remember is that planning, training, support, time, and failure are all key components to the future success of anything new.

Fullen, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.